Back to School – Advice from a College Senior

Aug '13 NC web banner-4By Stacie Sikora

As a soon to be graduate of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, I can’t help but reminisce on my choices as a high school senior. Jarod Kintz once wrote, “College has given me the confidence I need to fail.” College is a time for students to learn to fall and pick themselves up again. As a high school senior, I made many crucial decisions in a small period of time in regards to my future. I was lucky enough to have three older siblings who helped my decision, but some students aren’t as lucky. Therefore, as a final gesture to my high school self, here is some advice to those embarking on the perilous journey of choosing the right college.

The first thing I advise students to do is visit their high school guidance counselors and get as many brochures on colleges as possible. College brochures offer a rough account of data on each college such as tuition, scholarships, class size, programs offered, etc. Look at as many brochures as you can and narrow them down to your top ten. Then, get out and personally visit those ten. When visiting a college, focus on three aspects: the social agenda, the campus environment, and academics.   

In regards to the social agenda, you want to choose a college with the clubs, people, and opportunities with which you are familiar or interests you. My college is a small private school that allows me to practice my faith and enjoy many campus-wide activities including sporting events and student theatrical productions.  Larger state colleges offer a variety of social perks such as Greek Life, nationally recognized sporting events, and a larger selection of club opportunities. The best way to get a feel for the social environment of a college is to experience it first-hand with a current student, so visit the campus and walk around with the students and definitely ask questions.

Next up: campus environment. You want to evaluate size, location, weather and safety. Small college campuses mean more familiarity between students.  Unfortunately, students may struggle to find things to do. Larger campuses offer more events on weekends. Track the distance from home to the college. Decide if you prefer to commute or stay on campus. I wanted somewhere close enough that I could get home in a day if needed, but far enough that I couldn’t go home every weekend. Try to research the typical weather patterns for each school.  Finally, take some time to walk around the campus by yourself. Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable calling this place home for the majority of the next several years.

The last thing to consider, and what I consider to be the most important, is academics. I had the privilege to speak one-on-one with one of the English department’s professors at Saint Vincent while I was visiting the campus. That conversation changed me. It gave me assurance that their English professors were the best, and the education I would receive would be unparalleled. Liberal arts colleges like my own prepare their students in all areas—not just one subject of study. However, there are many colleges which center on specific majors—this would be a great choice for students who are very certain of their future path. Research shows that nearly two-thirds of college students start off with no major, and over fifty percent change their major at least once over the course of their college careers.  If you are struggling with this decision, try sitting down with some of the college deans to discuss each curriculum. Most colleges also offer personality tests to help narrow down your choice of major.  If you are still unsure about your chosen major, take a year or two to enroll in different courses and then choose—you have time. I explored different classes and found English isn’t my only strong point. I now major in both English and Communications.  

I will just leave you with one last piece of advice. When considering colleges, compare the different scholarships and financial aid that each has to offer. College tuition is going up more and more every year. Therefore, before you choose, take your parents’ advice–sit down and do your homework. Good Luck!

Stacie Sikora is currently a senior English major at Saint Vincent College. Born in Carrick, PA, Ms. Sikora’s current specialty is Children’s Literature, but she also has a minor in Public Relations, and spends her extra time performing in the theatre program at her school.